Amid a stream of assaults from the right on Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz, Rafi Peretz, leader of the Union of Right Wing Parties (URWP), this week defended his political rival and former commander.
The ruling Likud party led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which is trailing behind Blue and White in the polls, has characterized Gantz and his positions as “dangerous” to Israel. But Peretz said there should be limits to political rhetoric.
“I wouldn’t dream of ruling him out,” he told Army Radio. “You can’t call a chief of staff ‘dangerous.’ He was my commander and he’s my friend. Politics don’t determine everything.”
Gantz served as IDF chief of staff between 2011-2015. Peretz, the head of the newly formed alliance between the Jewish Home, National Union and extremist Otzma Yehudit, served as IDF chief rabbi between 2010-2016.
But Peretz also said the URWP would continue to back Netanyahu to lead the next government. “I’m behind him,” he said.
The URWP this week signed a vote surplus agreement with Likud. The treaty means that any extra votes — votes that are over the threshold for the party’s final number of Knesset seats but below the threshold to receive another seat — are pooled between the two signatory parties in the hopes that together there will be enough to gain another seat for one of them.
The union Peretz leads has been subject to a chorus of condemnation from Israelis and Diaspora Jews alike, over the inclusion of the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) faction led by former disciples of the extremist rabbi Meir Kahane.
The deal was facilitated by Netanyahu in a bid to strengthen the position of a possible Likud-led coalition after the April 9 vote. Jewish Home and Likud had feared that the former would not pass the electoral threshold if it ran alone, following the departure of former leader Naftali Bennett and his formation of the competing New Right party.
When lobbying for the merger, Peretz admitted that he himself had a hard time swallowing the notion at first, but said “our home is on fire.” He asserted that the arrangement reached with Otzma Yehudit was not a unity deal, but “a technical agreement for a limited period of time, and after the elections we will separate.”
Under the terms promised by Netanyahu, Jewish Home would get two ministerial positions in a new Likud-led government, and, in a highly unusual arrangement that is being challenged in the High Court, one of Jewish Home’s candidates has been given the 28th slot on Likud’s slate for the elections.